Comcast Helps Small Businesses Make Big Gains
Accustomed to wearing many hats, as any small business owner does, Manny Gonzalez led a group of high school students through his restaurant space at the Midtown Global Market moments after the weekday lunch rush. “Schools bring students here to learn Spanish,” he said after the students left, right before he jumped back on the line to make one of his lauded tortas—a Mexican sandwich served on a soft roll and filled with meat, vegetables, avocado, and refried beans. “I like teaching them about the language and the industry.”
Gonzalez has quietly given his time and resources to Twin Cities’ youth since he opened Manny’s Tortas in 1999, when he and his sister Victoria Gonzalez launched the first iteration of the fast-casual restaurant at Mercado Central in Minneapolis. In 2006 they moved Manny’s Tortas down the street to Midtown Global Market, where they’ve been a vendor ever since.
Gonzalez didn’t have time to waste after the students left, because he was about to give a tour to someone else: Chef Robert Irvine, the host of Food Network shows like Dinner: Impossible and Kitchen: Impossible. Irvine knows firsthand what it’s like to scale small businesses into something big. Not only has he been host to a handful of cooking shows, he’s also authored books and launched several successful food brands. Like Gonzalez, Irvine gives back too. He is the founder of the Robert Irvine Foundation, which donates a portion of proceeds from all his businesses to supporting service members, veterans, first responders, and their families.
Irvine was in town on behalf of Comcast Business and the company’s Comcast RISE initiative, a program created to support small businesses owned by women and people of color through grants and mentorship. Comcast Business brought Irvine to the Twin Cities to help guide local hospitality and technology leaders on how to leverage technology to enhance guest and customer experiences in a post-pandemic environment. Irvine strongly advised owners to invest in network connectivity to meet the increasing demand for paperless point-of-sale transactions. “Restaurants really need a trusted partner to come in and say, ‘Here’s what I would do based on where you are and where you want to be five years from now.’ That kind of advice was one of the biggest reasons that I first partnered with Comcast Business,” he said.
During his visit, Irvine also requested to tour Midtown Global Market and meet with Gonzalez, a Comcast RISE award recipient. “If people knew about what you were doing for these kids, you would get more business,” Irvine told Gonzalez. “Everything I do is not to make more money, it’s to be able to give more money away.”
Small businesses, particularly those owned by women and people of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and social unrest of the past few years. Intent on these critical businesses, Comcast Business has leaned on partners such as Irvine, who has worked with the company for 13 years, to help small business owners in need. In 2020, during a time fraught with pandemic stressors and racial and civil unrest, Comcast launched the national Comcast RISE program to benefit small businesses owned by people of color. In 2021, Comcast RISE awarded $10,000 in grants to 100 small businesses in the Twin Cities to be used for whatever the businesses saw fit. The following year, Comcast expanded the applicant pool to include women-owned businesses. In 2022, Comcast RISE awarded another 100 grants to more Twin Cities small business owners. To date, Comcast RISE has donated resources and support to nearly 400 small businesses in the Twin Cities, and 9,500 business owners nationwide. “The program is on track to support 13,000 small businesses by the end of 2022,” said Jill Hornbacher, senior director of external communications at Comcast.
“This is why I work with Comcast,” added Irvine. “They’re a business with a conscience. They believe in the same things I do. They’re not just about technology. They’ve got a heart.”
Manuel Gonzalez is a 2022 Comcast RISE award recipient and was chosen to sit down with Irvine to glean tips that would help his business. During their time together, Irvine encouraged Gonzalez to share more of his story about the ways he gives back to the community. He also spoke to growing technology capabilities and suggested restaurant owners lean into the idea of artificial intelligence taking over mundane tasks like dishwashing and point of sale so they could focus on the quality of their food and sharing their personal stories with the community.
“This place is an incubator of culture,” Irvine commented as he wandered through Midtown Global Market and visited with merchants like Soul to Soul Smokehouse and Dar Medina. “I’m not just getting food or buying products; I’m getting a history lesson here.”
After his tour, Irvine stepped into the kitchen at Manny’s Tortas and watched Gonzalez prepare the Manny’s Special—steak, onion, mushroom, tomato, and jalapeño grilled together and topped with ham and cheese. “This is my kind of meal,” Irvine said as he watched Gonzalez fry meat, peppers, and onions over the flat top grill. “I love street food.” As Irvine watched Gonzalez toast two halves of baguette with the back of his spatula and you could see his entrepreneurial wheels spinning. After 21 seasons as host of “Restaurant: Impossible,” Irvine is innately skilled in knowing how to help restaurateurs level up their business. “Restaurants have always been our escape and America was built on small business,” Irvine told Gonzalez. “We live to eat and I eat to live. And what makes you different, Manny, is how you give back to the community.”
The next round of Comcast RISE award winners will be announced in November. Comcast continues to expand its reach and is well on their way to helping more small businesses owned by women and people of color.